In Soviet Russia, rocket flies you

22/07/2011 § Leave a comment

Everyone knows that the Russians were first in space. But in terms of cinema, I was surprised to learn that there are actually very few Soviet sci-fi films. There are a couple of famous cases – Aelita, Solaris, Stalker – but there’s no real equivalent to the American B-Movie, a vast corpus of hokey-but-inventive films playing to the universal nerd. In fact, it wasn’t until three years after the launch of Sputnik that anyone in the USSR thought to make a single science fiction film

That film was The Call of the Heavens, and it’s something of a period piece. Our vision of space is dominated by beautiful people daring their way through existential perils. Soviet space is different. For one thing, this film was the first time I’d ever seen a space station made out of what appeared to be concrete.

Not only that, but every space ship, space station or ground control seems to be run by one of a closely-related family of heavy-jowled apparatchiks, all of whom look like W C Fields in need of a drink. The preferred uniform for space seems to be a khaki jacket with a smart space emblem on the breast pocket. No trip to Mars would be complete without a full wardrobe of these, plus space suits, plus some light-cas. Oh, and two spare radar stations, in case they should come in handy.

Actually, I’m coming round to the Russian way of visiting space. This was the first space station I’ve ever seen that was able to provide its crew with a full set of crystalware for its dinners; and the Rodina is the first spacecraft I’ve seen set out with a full complement of table napkins. Any female readers might also be swayed by the fact the chief engineer looks exactly like Dominic West out of The Wire.

You can watch 15 very slow minutes of the film at http://russianfilm.blogspot.com/2008/09/heavens-call-1959.html. I recommend jumping forward to about 14:30, just in time to see the cadaverous Americans arrive for a simple space meal.

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